When you think about Benalla, you might think about Winton supercars, Ned Kelly country, or even just the lunch stop at the rocket park on the long drive from Melbourne to Albury-Wodonga. So it might surprise you to learn that Benalla is fast on its way to becoming the street art capital of regional Victoria.
This year saw the third annual Wall to Wall Festival, curated by Melbourne-based Juddy Roller, featuring over 20 international and Australian street artists. On the first weekend in April, I joined thousands of locals and visitors watching the artists paint live on outdoor canvases.
While much of the artwork will stay up, visiting during the Festival gives you a unique opportunity to see the artists at work and talk to them about their themes, many of which are political or highlight local issues.
Jenny McCracken’s 3D mural shines a spotlight on global habitat destruction impacting on orangutans. Dvate’s Regent Honeyeater raises awareness of the critically endangered status of this local species.
My advice to those attending the live painting is: be curious, be respectful, and be patient. The artists are working against the clock and the weather!
This time-lapse video showing Sydney-based artist Anton Pulvirenti at work gives you an idea of the pace of the weekend.
The SEC building on Bridge Street East is a key site, with its three-storey-high portrait walls. This year, new portraits from Martin Ron and Cam Scale join an Adnate from 2015, replacing artwork by Rone and Guido van Helten.
The festival caters for everyone with a paint-by-numbers mural, a Freeza event alongside painting at the skate park, live DJs at the Festival Hub on Denny Street and street art tours.
Here are some of my favourite murals (note that some of these photos show works in progress).
Also launched this year was the Water Gallery at nearby Winton Wetlands, which is well worth a look. This area has a compelling indigenous and European history. In 1971 it was compulsorily flooded to create artificial Lake Mokoan, killing the ancient Red Gum swamp whose stark silhouettes now characterise the 8,750-hectare site. Artists Troy Firebrace and Baily Bish have painted a striking pathway of trees in Ashmead’s Swamp.
You can still see artwork from 2016: the CFA tank featuring three local CFA volunteers painted by Guido van Helten (of the Brim silo murals), as well as work by Tim Bowtell, Cam Scale, Jack Anselmi, Troy Firebrace and Tammy-Lee Atkinson.
In Goorambat, 20 kilometres from Benalla, Melbourne-based artist Adnate used the altar wall of the Uniting Church as the canvas for his portrait Sophia. You’ll need a car to get to Winton and Goorambat.
Wall to Wall is a living festival, and the artists and Benalla residents acknowledge that the art is transient. This year’s murals might be painted over next year.
In difficult times such as these we all need more art in our lives – so get yourself and your camera to Benalla.
BENALLA FOR ART LOVERS
Set in Victoria’s unique High Country and surrounded by forest and native wildlife, it’s not surprising that Benalla is home to a growing community of artists. While you’re there, don’t miss:
- Artwork from 2015 and 2016. My favourites include 23rd Key, Dvate, Sirum and Buttons (pictured)
- The North East Artisans collective on Bridge Street East
- The Benalla ceramic mural, a community art installation completed over a period of 20+ years
- Benalla Art Gallery, with an impressive permanent collection and excellent visiting exhibitions.
It’s 2.5 hours by road, and taking the car will make it easier to get to satellite sites Goorambat and Winton Wetlands.
For more information to plan your trip: